Sunday, December 13, 2009


I'm on vacation! Colton is landing in Fes on Tuesday and I'm taking 3 weeks off to travel around Morocco with him. Very exciting.

The last week in site was slow. My host mom went to pay her condolences to the family of my host uncle (who recently died), leaving my host dad and I to fend for ourselves. I cooked tajine for lunch and scambled eggs for dinner for three straight days.

The big news seems to be in the rest of the world. I read Obama's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. While I understand why he wants to maintain international support for the war in Afghanistan, I don't think that's the right venue to do so. The Peace Prize is an optimistic, idealistic prize and giving the "just war" speech, didn't fit.

And in Copenhagen things seem to be going about as expected, which is to say badly. Disappointing. Hopefully some sort of framework will be drawn up that can be a starting point for future negotiations.

Finally, I don't know if it made big news in America, but everyone here is talking about how Switzerland recently voted to ban minarets (of mosques). Absurd.

I'll be taking a break from the blog while I'm travelling. Next post won't be until sometime in the first week of January. Take care.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

STI Education

Post is long. If the beginning is boring, stay patient because it gets more interesting as it progresses.

On Saturday, another volunteer and I did an STI and HIV/AIDS education event in a nearby town (Boumia, population 30000). We were working with an association that we had done events with before.

After setting a date last week, I got to Boumia at 930 on Saturday morning. I happened to run into a couple guys from my town, Mohamed and Rachid (all Moroccan names changed). Mohamed is one of my best friends from my community. They got me to come eat breakfast and drink tea with them at a cafe. While we were talking, they told me they were in Boumia to go see prostitutes. They tried to get me to come. When I refused, Rachid told me he would pay for everything. Hearing my friends talk like that is pretty upsetting; it was especially poignant given that the group of people that we had targeted for the education: sex workers.

After a little while, my PCV friends showed up at the cafe. They talked with my Moroccan friends for a while as we had tea and scrambled eggs (which the Moroccans insisted on paying for).

My PCV friends and I left the cafe to go find our friend, Smail, who we were working with. We found Smail and Brahim (another guy helping with the project) at a different cafe. Brahim left to do some other work and Smail, Falisha and I went to invite girls and women to the event (scheduled for 3 that afternoon).

I've invited sex workers to one previous event and it's an emotionally difficult thing to do. Frankly, the prostitutes are a depressing group. Something about the alleys reeks of sex. The women are smoking (which is something that only prostitutes do in most of Morocco). They are dressed inappropriately. And groups of men and boys prowl the street, laughing and joking loudly with one another. Having Smail with us is crucial. He has a comfortable relationship with many of the women because he wrote his master's thesis on the sex industry in Boumia, which included surveying and interviewing. Inviting the women gave Falisha and I a chance to introduce ourselves - a long term goal we have is to build relationships with the women. One very positive part about the recruiting was that we got feedback about the previous event we had done: the women really liked the distribution of medicine (STI meds). In addition to the emotional difficulty of inviting the sex workers, I also had the shock of running into Mohamed and Rachid back in the "red light district." They were sufficiently embarrassed that they ran away without talking to us (or did I run away from them?). I told Smail that they were my friends. We are helping him learn English and he replied "they search."

After inviting the women, Smail, Falisha and I got into a car, suppossedly to go to another part of town to invite more women. We ended up driving around town without any aim as Smail's friends kept calling him and asking him to pick them up, only to disappear when we arrived at the rendezvous spot. Weird. Then we drove 5km out of town to pick up a clay tajine for Falisha (which apparently you can't get in town despite their ubiquity on dinner tables). The drive out of town was notable for the "tarkarbusht" that we were driving (takarbusht means something like "piece of shit car" in Tamazight). Every time Smail tried to shift into 3rd gear, the car went into 1st gear, sending the engine revving to 5000 rpms and causing the car to jerkily slow down. Smail attemted the shift approximately 16 times on the 30 minute round trip, each with the same result. It got old quickly.

On our return, we picked up Sam, the new PCV in Boumia. Then we went to the Caid's for formal permission from the Ministry of Interior. The Caid was at lunch (1245 pm), but we called someone and got the go ahead. Next, the 4 of us went to Brahim's house for lunch.

Brahim's house felt like a whole other world. Brahim lives in a very nice house with 2 cute kids. We had a good lunch and watched his 5 year old daughter, Samira, dance to a song played on repeat on her brother's cellphone. This girl had huge dimples and probably could not have been any cuter.

After lunch, Smail, Falisha, Sam and I went to the Dar Chebab - the site of the meeting. A Dar Chebab is like a youth center. It just so happens that another member of our association, Driss, has access to the center, allowing us to us the space for our meeting.

The meeting got started a little late (330), but attendance was good. There were 27 women there; we only directly invited 10. I was able to greet a couple of the women by name - always a good step. Smail did an excellent job leading the meeting. Falisha and I gave introductory remarks, but mostly we were silent because the meeting was conducted in Arabic.

The first half of the meeting was devoted to sex/reproductive health. Smail talked about condoms, disease transmission, and prevention and treatment of STIs. The women were mostly quiet during this part of the meeting, but I think the topic was appropriate. Smail talks about the subject in a PG way that allows people to feel comfortable, while still getting the point across.

The second half of the meeting (which consumed the majority of the time) was Smail leading a discussion about alternative options for work for the women. This is really Smail's primary agenda for the meeting. He thinks that if we can find work for the women, we can free them from sexual prostitution. I applaud this hope, but I think that he is overly optimistic. As a powerful man in Boumia, however, he has access to real resources that could be helpful. He proposed having a carpet making workshop, a couscous making project, having the women take care of cows, and starting a patisserie. Hopefully, one of the projects works out. Some of the women were enthused.

The meeting got more informal as women came to the head table to sign up for the projects. As I was sitting there, a 45 year old woman came up to me with her daughter. She didn't speak Tamazight, so she spoke through a translator. She told me that her daughter was 11 years old (she looked about 7). Apparently, the girl had some sort of heart disorder. They had been to Meknes and Khenifra (regional hospitals) and gotten medicine, but the condition hadn't improved. The woman asked me to bring some heart medicine when we brought the other medicine (we had told the women that we were planning another STI testing date, which includes medicine distribution). It was really difficult to tell the woman that I couldn't help her daughter. I probably could have been a little more direct, but I managed to communicate that I did not have means to do anything. I told her "God will help," which sounds insensitive in English, but is appropriate in Arabic. Just about broke my heart.

Unbelievably, that wasn't the most upsetting part about the meeting. As the women started to break up into smaller groups, I tried to find some women to talk to. I wanted to see how much Jamal had touched on some of the sensitive details, which I can't understand very well in Arabic. I went up to a group of women and asked who spoke Tamazight. 5 younger girls said yes, which was suprising because normally the younger ones are the Arabic speakers. The girls were 16-19 years old.

I asked them if they knew how to stop STIs. They said condoms. I asked them what they would do if a man asked them to not use a condom. They said they would tell him to leave. That was very encouraging and better than I hoped for (our worry with this project is that targeting women is ineffective because they have no say over condom use). Next I asked them, out of 10 men, how many used condoms. One girl started speaking at length. She said that not a single man uses condoms - they don't like them and they refuse to use them (immediately deflating the hope the previous, probably false answer had created). She started talking about how hard their lives were. How when they were working they didn't think about what they were doing, but being at this meeting made it impossible to forget. One of the girls, who was wearing heavy lipstick, mascara, and had her nails painted brightly started silently crying. Tears slowly leaked from her eyes and she wiped them away one by one. The girl started talking about how the health clinic in town charges them for condoms (they're suppossed to be free) and the ones at the pharmacy are expensive (2.5 DHs (40 cents) for a condom...considering that the going rate for a prostitute is 10-20 DHs, this a lot). She said they hated their work: the men, the illnesses, the government/police (who collect bribes and hassle them) and the "problems." The girl with make up kept crying. She was probably 18 years old and it was all I could to to stop myself from giving her a hug. At this point, despite the long-shot nature of the projects Smail had proposed, it was hard not to hope that maybe we could give them some other options. Telling them just "use condoms" suddenly seemed heartlessly insufficient. Improving their sexual health would make just a small difference in their difficult lives. Moreover, they didn't even have the power to make a decision about condoms. The girl started praising us and thanking us. I told them God will help - my classic "I don't know how to help you" response. She said that we were the cause to help them chane their lives. I don't know if she meant "you have motivated us to change our lives" or "you will help us change our lives with these projects."

The day was emotionally exhausting. The meeting went about as well as it could have gone in terms of communicating a message to a receptive audience, but it revealed such deep-rooted problems that are beyond our capability to make a real impact on. It showed us just how much work there is to do. It was incredibly informative. There is clearly a need to address the availability of condoms and medicine. Furthermore, it seems that a large effort needs to be made in order to reach the male population, which is much more daunting. It is a much larger, less centralized, less receptive population. Mostly though, the meeting was heartbreaking.

It's hard not to draw negative conclusions about the society that I live in based upon the sex industry in Boumia (and other nearby towns/cities). Rural, Muslim, Berber culture has successfully stigmatized female sexuality to the point where it is impossible for a woman to express sexuality and remain a part of society. Men, seeking sex (hypocritically not taboo for them), take advantage of poor women with no other options. By compartamentalizing and isolating female sexuality to the sex industry, society is able to maintain the myth of female purity. The cost (in addition to the suppression of sexuality in the female population) is the creation of social pariahs: the prostitutes. Women in the sex industry have violated one of the most basic social rules, ostracizing themselves from normal society. Marganalized, they are powerless to prevent abuse by the authority figures, who hassle them and collect bribes from their meager earnings. Earning pittances for social suicide, they are unable to protect even their own health: condom use is up to the discretion of the man. Ugh.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Holidays and Other News

I have been eating lots the past week.

Last Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving. 8 PCVs gathered in Tounfite to celebrate. We killed 2 turkeys and made a bunch of other food. We invited a Moroccan family that we are close to come and celebrate with us. It was there 2nd Thanksgiving in a row; they like the holiday a lot. I made mashed potatoes: about six pounds of potatoes and nearly a pound of butter. Delicious. The celebration was a lot of fun, but this is the 3rd Thanksgiving in a row that I have been out of America for. Next year I hope to be home.

Saturday was the biggest Moroccan (and Muslim) holiday of the year. The holiday is a celebration of when Ibrahim was told by God to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. Just as Ibrahim was about to make the sacrifice, God told him to sacrifice a sheep instead. It's a story about faith and obedience. Lots of people here are surprised that I know the parable because they don't know that it's a story from the Old Testament.

Everyone in my community slaughters a goat or sheep (or two) for the holiday. Once again, I helped my host family slaughter and skin their goat. There are two especially gross parts. First, after the goat is dead, you cut a little hole in its skin near the foot to start skinning it. You blow a bunch of air into this hold which kind of inflates the goat and makes skinning easier. The second gross part is once the goat has been skinned, getting rid of the innards. In order to flush all of the shit of the goats intestines and stomach, you fill the intestines with water and blow on the opening of the intestine until the water runs out. I did both of these gross things this year. I think it's important to be able to prepare/kill animals if you are going to eat them. Taking part in the slaughter makes me want to go back to being a vegitarian.

My host dad's brother died a week and a half ago. My host "uncle" lived a couple hours away, so I had never met him. My host dad went to stay with that family for a couple days for the funeral. Upon his return, nearly everybody in town has been coming to the house to pay their condolonces. My host mom complains a lot about having to serve them all tea and all the extra work from having guests. But at the same time, she told me that she's counting everyone who doesn't come to the house and she will never talk to them again.

Three more community meetings happened. One with men and two with women. I think they are effective at disseminating information throughout the community. I had a female volunteer come and facilitate the meetings with women. The most encouraging part about the meetings is that the women who attended the midwife training have been very good at explaining the lessons of the training (which was the purpose of the training).

In the next two weeks, I have more community meetings, an educational meeting with sex workers about STIs and I am hopefully going to do a biomass survey of the local forest with another volunteer. The idea is to use current wood usage rates to estimate how many years the forest has left. That work should keep me busy until Colton comes on the 15th and we travel around Morocco together. I'm really looking forward to that vacation.

The only other news is that this year has been exceptionally warm. On Thanksgiving last year, we got a big snowstorm that dropped probably 8 inches. We have yet to have any snow this year. However, the weather has just changed. The last couple days have been quite cold. Winter may finally be here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

TBA report

Here is the report that I wrote for the workshop I did a couple weeks ago. I'm not allowed to publish the names of the villages, so that's what all the "A" and "A2's" are. It's long and maybe boring (and poorly formatted for blogspot). There is a personal update at the end if that's all you're interested in.

Maternal and Child Health Workshop
October 28th, 29th, and 30th 2009
Duncan Gromko

Goals and Objectives
Project Timeline
Workshop Curriculum
Monitoring and Evaluation
Suggestions for Future Workshops
This project was very rewarding. The purpose of this report is to help volunteers replicate it in their sites. Although each site poses unique public health problems, maternal and child health is an area that deserves attention in rural Morocco. I welcome questions and criticisms.
Isolated by towering mountains, the communities of XXX face different public health problems due to their geographic location and economic situation. Tounfite is the local hub: a souq town. It has a large health clinic, a maison d'accouchement, and a place for women to stay pre and post delivery. A and T have a small health clinic and are an hour from Tounfite. T2 and L have a clinic and are about two hours from Tounfite. T3 has no clinic and is approximately four to five hours from Tounfite (two hours from the L clinic). There is a health clinic in A2; T4 and B are about seven kilometers from A2. Tounfite is two to three hours away. Communities that are further from Tounfite must be more self-reliant. Generally speaking, the region is underdeveloped due to its lack of natural resources and harsh environmental conditions that make agriculture only marginally productive. The main sources of income for these communities is herding sheep.
Most women give birth in the home, with the help of their mothers or other female relations, resulting in high rates of maternal and infant mortality. The number of pre-natal visits is also low. Furthermore, lack of access to Ministry health care means that common illnesses, such as diarrhea, can be fatal. Therefore, preventive health measures are crucial.
This workshop was the second in two years. Last year’s training, hosted by Mara Hansen, focused primarily on birthing. Given the difficulty of training women to be midwives in three days and other health issues facing the communities, the focus for this year’s training was slightly altered. In addition to pregnancy and birthing, more general health issues such as hygiene, oral rehydration liquid, and family planning were covered. Furthermore, the training focused on enabling the women to be health care advocates in their communities. Thus, the women were asked to simulate teaching exercises in order to build these skills. Finally, without the assistance and support of men in these communities, a comprehensive solution will not be found. Thus, on the final day of the training, community leaders from each village were invited to create a community action plan to be implemented following the training.
• Volunteers (Duncan Gromko, Kristen Apa, Taryn Weil, Dan Dutcher, Jed D’Abravanel, Eric O’Bryant, and Falisha Khan) were responsible for recruiting women, planning the workshop curriculum, securing Ministry permission, assisting in lessons, and ensuring that all logistical issues were taken care of.
• Ministry of Health employees (MOH Khenifra representative, two Tounfite sage-femmes, and Agoudim doctor) were responsible for conducting the training. MOH Khenifra representative gave introductory remarks and a quick lesson on hygiene. Tounfite sage-femmes did the majority of the lessons, focusing on birthing and pre/post-natal care. Agoudim doctor did a lesson on basic hygiene, first aid, and oral rehydration. The Ministry also provided a space for the lesson and photocopies of the lesson booklet.
• 25 women from rural communities (A: 5, T2: 3, B: 2, T3: 2, L: 2, T4: 1, A2: 2, T5: 3, Tounfite: 4, A3: 1)
• 7 community leaders were in attendance for the final afternoon session
• Two Tounfite women cooked food for and hosted the women for three days and four nights
Goals and Objectives
To improve maternal and child health in the villages of XXX by teaching 25 women basic health lessons and creating opportunities for them to become community health advocates.
Training objectives:
• 25 women will demonstrate understanding of the following topics
o The importance of pre/post natal visits to the medical clinic
o Healthy pre/post natal practices in the home
o Identification and referral of high-risk patients to local birthing centers (maison d’accouchement)
o Safe home birthing practices
o Preventing infant diarrhea, oral rehydration
o Hygiene
o Different contraceptive methods (birth control pill, condoms, IUD, the shot)
• Two midwives and one doctor will acquire new instructional methods and increase their ability to promote healthy behaviors among rural populations
• 25 women and 10 community leaders will create community action plans to bring the lessons from the training back to their communities
Long term objectives:
• Number of pre-natal visits to local health clinics (Tounfite, A2, A, and L) will increase
• Number of births in maison d’accouchement in Tounfite will increase
• Number of infant deaths related to diarrheal diseases will decrease
• Contraceptive methods will be used more frequently and with greater efficacy
• Each village will hold community wide meetings, conducted by the women from the training, volunteers, community leaders, and Ministry of Health staff, to disseminate the lessons from the training
Project Timeline
• May – Informally propose project to Ministry of Health
• June and July – Recruit women to attend workshop
• July – Discuss curriculum with doctor and sage-femmes
• September – Formal approval from Ministry of Health
• October 20th-27th Finalize workshop logistics
• October 28th-30th Workshop
• November and December - Community meetings
Transportation for women - 600 Dhs
Lodging/food for women - 3,000 Dhs
Pay for women - 2,400 Dhs
Photocopies - 400 Dhs (Ministry of Health)
Break food, misc. - 400 Dhs
Using Tounfite maison d'accouchement (In kind)
Time of Tounfite Ministry of Health Staff (In kind)
Printing photos - 60 Dhs
Gifts for trainers - 180 Dhs
Total - 7,040 Dhs
Workshop Curriculum

Day 1
Pre-natal care: home
Identifying risky pregnancies
Pre-natal care: sbitar

Day 2
Healthy practices: preparing for birth
Healthy practices: birthing
Family planning
Oral rehydration

Day 3
Post-natal care
Community groups meet to formulate action plan
Community groups present plan to larger group

Transportation for the women was fairly straightforward. Mostly, they were responsible for finding their own transport. They were reimbursed at conclusion of training.
Feeding of women was difficult. Having a Moroccan family host and feed the women (women who had no family in Tounfite) was critical. It took a lot of responsibility off of the hands of the volunteer. It was expensive, but well worth the expense. We took care of break food (tea, peanuts, pastries), which was easy for volunteers who were not participating in the training to be responsible for. Having seven volunteers there to take care of various unexpected odds and ends was important.
Organizing and participating in this training was very rewarding. The women were very appreciative and enjoyed the training. On the final day, there was a celebration dinner with an ahaydus, where the women sang praises of the volunteers.
The final session of the training, with community leaders attending, was the most important session of the training. Hopefully, it will provide the women (and volunteers) with community partners to help with further education efforts. During the session, each community group made an action plan as to how they would disseminate information to the appropriate people. The group was asked to review the lessons of the training and decide which lessons were most important in their community, based upon their health needs. Inviting men and asking them to take a stake in the health of women in their community was critical to the success of the training. It will make future work much easier. At the conclusion of the training, each community group was asking me when I was going to come to their village to do a smaller version of the workshop with them.
Another highlight from the final meeting was a particularly impassioned speech made by a 23 year-old woman from T4, named Turia. She stood up in front of women and men and demanded that people take better care of their women. She said that men had a responsibility to provide for their women. She said that women ought to stand up for one another (and themselves) when they witness oppression. She emphasized the importance of the community helping itself and not waiting for outside help to come and save it. It was a moving speech that was an excellent way to conclude the training.
The most difficult part of the training was the difficulty of sticking to the schedule. Events beyond anyone's control demanded that lessons be moved around. For example, each of the sage-femmes was called away to Khenifra on one of the training days, leaving the other to teach lessons by herself. Another difficulty arose when, on Thursday morning, a woman came into the maison d'accouchement in labor. With only one sage-femme at the center, we were momentarily left without a trainer. But, in this instance and others, we were flexible and made productive use of the time.
Language was a small problem. On the first day, the sage-femme leading the training was a Tamazight speaker, which made the lessons and communication easy. On the second day, the sage-femme and doctor who led the sessions were Arabic only speakers, necessitating a translator. While the translator did an admirable job, it is difficult to have as fluid of a conversation speaking through a translator.
Shame about the health topics covered was a small problem. Males were excluded from the training room for the sensitive training sessions, reducing that problem. On the last day, when men were invited, some people were uncomfortable. One man opened up the training booklet (which contains some graphic pictures), stood up, and left. He was the only one to leave, however. Although people were uncomfortable for this session, I believe that was unavoidable. The only thing I would change is to be sure that the training booklet remains closed.
Some of the women were not actively participating in the lessons. One woman fell asleep. There are a couple explanations. First, asking these women to concentrate for hours on end is inherently problematic. Most of them haven't been in a school setting for years. Second, recruiting women is difficult. It is not easy to predict (especially as a male) who will actively participate in the training. The more time spent before the training evaluating potential trainees, the better.
Organizing the training was a lot of work. Having the help of six other volunteers was critical.
Another challenge during the training was the use of handout (visual aids) that corresponded with the lessons of the training. The trainers did not consistently utilize the materials and the women had a difficult time following along. A large flip-chart, that corresponded with the handouts, would make it easier for trainees to follow along.
A three day workshop is inherently limiting. It was difficult to fit the entire curriculum into the three days an ensure that all of the women were absorbing all of the information. Narrowing the breadth of the training may be necessary.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Monitoring the ability of this training to reach its goals and objectives is both important and difficult. It is important to monitor the success of the training because doing so will inform volunteers’ future work. It is difficult because there are many complicating variables. Furthermore, the success of this training is not entirely captured by measureable numbers. Simply promoting women’s health in such a public manner was a success in itself.
The objectives for the training were mostly met. Most women were actively engaged in the lessons and were able to explain the topics to each other and volunteers when asked. There was a minority of women who did not focus on the lessons for the entirety of the training (one woman fell asleep), but these women were the exception, not the rule. Furthermore, expecting middle age women who have not been in a classroom setting for 30 years (if ever) to focus for three straight days is asking a lot. The women did remarkably well at focusing. The instructors of the training (Ministry of Health staff) deserve credit for making the lessons interesting and engaging. The objective of each community deciding upon a community action plan was also met as discussed above.
It is too early to judge whether the long-term objectives for the training have been met. Pre-natal visits and births in the maison d’accouchment can be measured by comparing Ministry statistics from before and after the training. This will not be a perfect indicator, however, as there could be other factors contributing to an increase in pre-natal visits (ie the Lougagh nurse is new; one can expect that he will get more visits as the community gains trust in him). In addition to comparing Ministry statistics, there is another method of measuring pre-natal visits and births in the health clinic. Each woman was given ten “referral” cards: a small sheet of paper with a picture of a pregnant woman going to the health clinic. Each card has the woman’s name on the back. The women were instructed to give the cards to pregnant women when they recommend a health clinic visit. The pregnant women will then give the card to the health clinic staff, to be later counted by a Peace Corps volunteer. If this system is effective, it will give a clear indication of the training’s reach and effectiveness. Three weeks after the training, early returns from the referral cards are very positive. Ten cards have been turned into the A health clinic (referrals from five different trainees) and two cards have been turned into the L health clinic (one trainee). In addition to providing volunteers with a means of monitoring activity, they also give trainees motivation to make referrals.
It will be difficult to judge whether or not deaths from diarrheal diseases decrease or contraceptive devices are used more effectively. Statistics are not currently kept on this sort of thing. Witnessing behavior change will be the surest way to judge if those lessons were effective.
If the community wide meetings hosted by women from the training, Ministry of Health staff, community leaders, and Peace Corps volunteers are held, that will be a clear indication of the training’s success. These meetings will force the communities to engage about the health issues facing them and how they can be most effectively addressed. If the meetings are well-run, then they will allow other objectives to be met. Three weeks after the training, one community meeting has been held with several others planned for the coming weeks.
Suggestions for Future Workshops
Although the workshop was interactive and engaging, improvements could been made. Any activities that force the women to stand up and physically be involved are positive. If time had permitted, the schedule would have included an entire "teach back" session, where the women are asked to teach other trainees lessons that they had just learned. This would reinforce the lessons in their heads and give them the skills for talking to other women.
Another suggestion for keeping the women engaged is to include stretching breaks with the tea breaks. Anything to get the women to stand up and move around for five minutes.
A final way of addressing the problem of inattentive women is a better recruiting and vetting process. The more time that a recruiter can spend with the women before mentioning the workshop, the better. I mentioned a speech given by Turia at the final session. In addition to that speech, she was critical in bridging the cultural gap between the Ministry of Health staff and the women. Other women were also important contributors to raising the energy level of the training and helping other women understand the difficult concepts. Recruiting is a critical step in making the training a success. Invite active, strong women. Having a variety of ages is also helpful: older women have more experience, but younger women tend to be more active. Invite community leaders who you can imagine working with after the training.
In future trainings, it would be helpful to give the women a "test" at the conclusion of the training to more formally gauge their competencies. Furthermore, having feedback from the trainees at the conclusion of the training would be a good way to improve future workshops.
The workshop was a very rewarding project. Hopefully, it will be a catalyst for creating wide-spread behavior change in a number of communities. It is important to emphasize, however, that the workshop is only a first step. If villages do not follow through on their community action plans, the reach of the workshop will be limited.
For any volunteer that identifies maternal and child health as a community health priority, I recommend considering a project similar to this workshop. It is an effective way of addressing the problem. However, it is critical to tailor the project to the community's assets and deficits. A community that has easy access to a functional maison d'accouchement needs a much different training than one with no access. It is also critical to consider the ability of the Ministry of Health staff to lead the training. In Tounfite, our staff is very capable and did an excellent job with the training. Two of the trainers attended last year's workshop, meaning that they had experience. Furthermore, it is important to have a common language between the MOH staff and the volunteer so there can be fluid communication about the curriculum and problems that arise during the course of the workshop. Another consideration is the size and location of the workshop. This was a large workshop in our souq town. It would be easier to facilitate a smaller workshop in the town of the women. Depending on the situation, it may be easier and more effective to have several small trainings, rather than one large one.
It is also important to consider the strengths of the volunteer. As a man, it was easier for me to persuade community leaders to attend the final session. It was also easier for me to make contacts in outer douars for recruiting. On the other hand, it was more difficult for me to thoroughly vet the women before the training. Also, I was unable to be in the training room for most of the training. An effective training is going to utilize male and female volunteers.
This workshop would not have been possible without a long list of people. Rachida, Wafa, and Selua (Ministry of Health staff: Tounfite) did an outstanding job conducting the training; they reached out to the women and made it engaging and interactive. The Ministry of Health in Khenifra, in particular Sidi Aissa gave me permission to use their facilities, workers, and provided training booklets for the women. Sidi Aissa also helped me figure out the paperwork at the Ministry and led an excellent opening session at the workshop. The entire Tounfite health clinic staff was helpful as well, thanks to Lahcen, the Medicin Chef. Mamaksu and Baha worked day and night for 4 straight days to provide the women with food and housing. My programming staff, Mostafa Lamqaddam and Rachid Lamjaimer, provided advice and support. The volunteers who helped on the project: Kristen Apa, Taryn Weil, Dan Dutcher, Jed D’Abravanel, Eric O’Bryant, and Falisha Khan did everything I asked them to do and plenty of things I forgot to ask of them. Mark and Joyce Gromko, Mary Ellen Newport, and Kristin and David LaFever all contributed financially. Kristin and David LaFever and Mara Hansen deserve thanks for showing me how to run a workshop last year.

Had first follow-up community meeting in my village (A) with men. It went quite well. I'm hoping to do similar meetings in 3-4 other villages. And meetings with women as well. I have three scheduled for next week. The main lessons are: pre-natal visits, birth in Tounfite (not in house), hygiene, and birth control.

On Monday I painted two rooms of my host family's house. I liked doing it because it was the first time that I've had a skill that people here valued (I've done lots of painting work before).

On Wednesday the local police (in Tounfite) called me during lunch and told me to come immediately to Tounfite (one hour away). They told me to bring my ID card. I told them that it expired months ago and that I had already applied to them for a new one. They had my old copy. When I got to the office, they asked me for my card. I explained to them again that they had taken my old card. They asked if I had a photocopy of the card, and I told them that it was in their files. They looked through my paperwork and sure enough, there it was. They said I could go home. Very typical.

Friday, November 13, 2009


First to respond to the question: I got in touch with The National through an alumnni friend. He found out about my blog and suggested that I write an article.


I came back to my site after 12 days away to find out that "the children are on strike against the teachers." This demanded more explanation.

The quality of education that kids get in my site (and much of Morocco) is bad compared with American education. There are two classrooms for six grades. In the morning, 1st and 2nd grade share one classroom (and one teacher) and 3rd grade gets the other teacher. 4th gets its own classroom in the afternoon and 5th and 6th grade share the other.

That was last year, when there were 4 teachers. This year there are three. Two of those remaining teachers do not speak Tamazight, only Arabic. The young kids don't speak any Arabic, so they mostly are just learning Arabic in the first two years.

Beyond the cramped learning conditions and language barriers, another issue is the pedagological methods used. Rote memorization combined with capital punishment for mistakes make learning difficult. Last Spring I tutored some 6th grade kids in basic math and they had a very difficult time. They were unable to think creatively and apply rules they had learned to real world situations.

The teachers don't have it easy either. They live several hours from their homes. The female teachers spend all of their time in the classroom or home; they have few friends in town. For someone from a modern city like Azrou or Khenifra, this would be very difficult. So the teachers leave frequently to go home. The director who oversees them is not around very often either.

Which brings us to the strike. Two of the teachers had left town without permission, leaving one teacher in charge of six grades. Impossible to accomplish anything so the kids "went on strike" in response. They were directed by their parents to take this action. This got the attention of the director, who came back to town. He is helping with teaching duties until the other teachers return.

It's a sad situation. In order to continue school past the 6th grade, kids have to go to Tounfite, an hour away. Of the few kids who get their parents' support to go to Tounfite, most fail out. They haven't been prepared. Parents in town complain about how bad he teachers are, but they invest little energy in their kids' education themselves. I wish the teachers were a little more invested in jobs, but I also understand their complaints. It all adds up to another generation of sheep herders.


Winter is just around the corner. Nights around 0 degrees Celsius, but days are still warm - often very sunny. This fall is definitely warmer, and less rainy, than last year.

I've spent this week organizing meetings in 4 different communities. It's time to put the plans made during the workshop into action.

Early returns from the workshop are very encouraging. While I was away in Marrakech, seven pregnant women came to the health clinic for pre natal visits with a referral card from one of my trainees. In one week. Compare that to six visits for the previous month (which was unusually high) for the four clinics in my region combined. After a week there is already measureable success. The referral cards turn out to be an effective motivator in addition to a measuring tool because the trainees know their work is being monitored.

This surge of referrals is certainly due to post-workshop excitement. Hopefully community meetings can institutionalize the behavior change.

Arranging the post-workshop community meetings has been a headache. Here is what I've gone through in my village (one of four). I returned from Marrakech on Saturday evening. On Sunday, the association president asked where/when we were going to do the meeting. I told him I wanted him to make those decisions. He told me we should have it in the school on Thursday; I should go to the school director's house to seek permission. Monday at 10 I went to school; the director was not back from his weekend vacation. Tuesday at 10, I found him. He told me I couldn't have the meeting in school, so I went to the association president. He told me to try the Commune. I went to the Commune; the person in charge was not there. On a whim, I told the Khalipha (local Ministry of Interior figure) my problem. He told me that he would talk to the director and get me permission. Wednesday I went to another town. Thursday I went to the Khalipha's office, but he was gone. So I called him. He said that the director had given me permission, but not at the time I had suggested (now moved to Monday morning). A teacher had told me the classroom would be free then. So I went back to the director and asked what was up. He told me I could use the classroom, but only Sundays or after 5 pm. So I went to the association president and we decided on this Thursday at 5 pm. Then back to school for final permission from the director.

I'm doing well. The work is exciting, if frustrating. I'm getting questions from other volunteers who want to replicate the training, which is cool. On November the 12th, a new training group of volunteers swore in. The next time a new group swears in, that group will contain my replacement. This means that my training group are "seniors" - the "oldest" volunteers in country. I also found out my COS date - the date that our service is over: May 19th. I leave Morocco in just over six months.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Out of the Woods

I just got an article published in The National, a newspaper in the UAE. Here is that article. You can also view the article at

I live in rural Morocco. Jbel Ayache – one of the tallest mountains in North Africa – and several other gigantic peaks tower over the village I call home. Though the mountains are beautiful, I cannot look at them without noticing how denuded they are. Almost every large tree has been cut down. Little new growth exists. The small trees and bushes that remain cling to jagged rocks.

Because of the altitude, our winters are extremely cold: we rely on wood harvested from the forest to heat our houses. In the past, the forest came up to the edge of the village. Men would cut down massive trees right by the side of the road, then sell them to big logging companies. This was a major source of village income, but those trees aren’t around anymore. Instead of picking up logs by the side of the road, the loggers now purchase harvesting rights for land deeper into the mountains. Every morning we see big lorries rumble by; in the afternoon, they rumble by again loaded high with wood.

My 73-year-old host dad has no sons, so he is responsible for collecting the family’s wood. He wakes up at five or six in the morning, rides his mule for two hours, then cuts down oak and cedar trees with an axe for at least four hours. Usually he gets back at two or three in the afternoon, eats a meal, then immediately falls asleep for the rest of the day. Waking for the evening meal, he complains about his sore joints. I once went with a friend to try my hand at cutting. Oak, I discovered, is a very hard wood, and the tree must be cut into pieces that fit on a mule’s back. Now I pay someone else 50 Moroccan dirhams (Dh24) per mule load to cut my wood for me.

The primary means of income in my village is the herding of sheep and goats. When I hike in the mountains, it is difficult to be alone; I inevitably run into a shepherd and his sheep. These animals – there are hundreds of thousands of them – eat any shoot poking out of the ground, effectively destroying the next generation of trees. But people have lived and herded in these mountains for centuries without placing undue stress on their resources. I asked my host father, who loves to talk about the past, what had changed. “The road changed everything,” he told me. Twenty-five years ago, lorries couldn’t reach the forest. Selling sheep at souq meant crossing a 10,000 foot mountain, which cut into profits. Anyway, there was a much lower demand for meat in urban Moroccan markets, as few people could afford it.

A village 28 kilometres away from mine has already cut down all the trees from the land near their village. The wealthiest residents buy their wood from neighbouring towns. Most people, however, can only burn small, dried-up bushes that barely produce enough heat to cook food, let alone heat a house. I have been to this village in winter. The herders and their flocks are gone in search of warmer weather. Those who remain wear thick wool jellabas to attempt to keep out the cold. During the day, people rarely leave the house, and most conversations focus on how cold it is. Nights are spent huddled together in a common room.

The example of our neighbours is just one of many reminders of the dangers of resource depletion. The scope of the problem – dwindling forests, scarce grazing land, water washing away unanchored topsoil – is obvious to anyone who is remotely involved in community life. Yet next to no action has been taken. Morocco’s department of water and forest has even offered villages like mine a deal: they will plant trees if everyone agrees to stay off the land for five to 10 years, until the trees mature. Furthermore, they will compensate the community to the tune of 250 Moroccan dirhams (Dh120) per hectare per year. But very few communities, including mine, have accepted the offer; even when they have, the promise to stay off the land has typically been broken.

Because enforcement is lax, no individual has any incentive to change his consumption. This applies even to would-be conservationists: unless everyone is on board, one family’s sacrifice won’t protect the resource. If, for example, my friend Driss reduced his flock from 200 to 100 sheep, it would make his family much poorer. And without similar action from other community members, it would make no difference: someone else would probably respond by increasing the size of their flock. It wouldn’t be hard: giving away sheep is a common government practice. Just recently, the King distributed a gift of 5,000 sheep to the residents of our nearest market town. Even if an entire community wanted to sign on to the government deal, they would surely be wary of neighbouring villages taking advantage of their now-unguarded grazing land. This is partially a standard tragedy of the commons, and partially bad blood: before the French colonised this part of Morocco, these tribes often fought each other.

The solution is elusive, and there’s no quick fix. Topsoil takes a long time to build up to the point where it can support trees. All I can see when I climb these mountains is loose rock. This autumn, there have been heavy thunderstorms, and there is no soil to absorb rainfall anymore, so the water rushes downhill. Our rivers run brown with the last dregs of our soil. Last Saturday, some nearby fields were completely washed away, their corn completely destroyed. Several families lost their apple crops. Within the week, the men will be back in the forest, doing the only thing they can to stay warm: cutting down more trees.

Im in Marrakech now, helping with In Service Training (IST) for newer volunteers. They've been in site for 6 months now, so this training is supposed to help them think about how they can use what they've learned about their sites to implement projects. Me and 5 other volunteers from my training stage were invited to talk about our projects and how the lessons we've learned are applicable in others' sites. It's been a good experience; I believe that I've been helpful.

One very positive thing about IST has been seeing the other 5 volunteers from my stage. I'm sometimes negative about Peace Corps and the small impact that volunteers have, but these 5 have all successfully implemented substantial projects in their sites. I'm also hearing about others who aren't here who have done some cool projects. It looks like, when we leave this country, my training group will have a long list of positive projects to point to, which is a good feeling.

One negative thing is that I question the unintended consequences of some of the projects. Specifically, trash and waste management. One volunteer has implemented a project in their site where the community gathers trash in a central location, then burns the trash in an incinerator purchased by a Peace Corps grant written by the volunteer. Burning trash is illegal in America because it releases dioxins (carcinogenic) into the air. When volunteers talk about the health impact of leaving trash laying around, they talk about flies and water contamination, which are products of food and animal waste, not plastic. The project may be creating a public health problem where little/none existed (plastic sitting on the ground does release polycarbons on a slow time scale). I'm not going to get into more detail because I don't want to be overly critical.

Finally, the big news from IST is that we got to hear Hillary Clinton speak. She was in Marrakech for an international forum on Middle Eastern business climate. Us PC volunteers went over to the palace where the forum was, and she found 30 minutes to talk to us and State Department staff. CNN covered the event:

It was pretty fun. Several people shook her hand (I was stuck in the middle of the row, far from the lucky ones in the aisle). As always, I can't help finding a negative side to any positive story. It sucks that Clinton focused on the oldness of one particular volunteer, rather than the productiveness of all volunteers. I hope I don't sound like a bitter guy saying this and I do think being an 85 year old in PC is pretty cool. But I believe that PC is generally perceived as this quirky organization that doesn't accomplish anything tangible. It would have been nice for Clinton to talk about the work that volunteers do in Morocco, rather than the age of one. Do I sound bitter?

Hope all is well! Going back to my site today and tomorrow.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Maternal and Child Health Workshop

First, thanks for the comments. I enjoy sharing the experiences that I've had in Morocco and I'm glad that other people enjoy reading about them.

On the 28th, 29th, and 30th of October, I hosted a Maternal and Child Workshop for 25 local women in my souq town. I'm going to write up a long report of it at some point and post that report here, but in the mean time, here is an account of the workshop.

I started thinking about this workshop one year ago, when Mara Hansen, another volunteer, hosted a similar one that I was involved in. In June and July of this year, I started recruiting women for the workshop. This involved riding my bike a lot to different villages, trying to find interested women. Luckily I had built up relationships in these villages in the past year. Early in the summer I also started talking with the doctors and midwives about the curriculum for the training and when we ought to host it. Simultaneously, I was working with the Ministry of Health in my provincial capital to make sure that we had there support.

After some miscommunication and scheduling difficulties with the Ministry, the training was officially scheduled for October 28, 29, 30. So I had to go back to each village to tell the women the details. Then, a week before the stage, I had to start working on logistical details for the women.

Tuesday afternoon (27th), there were some 10 women in Tounfite. We had dinner with them at a family's house who was hosting the women for the week. They were in a good mood. I was feeling very nervous. There were still 15 women missing! I knew that some of them would be staying with family in Tounfite and that others would be coming early tomorrow morning, but, throughout the training, I was often worried about things that I could not control.

Wednesday morning we met at the health clinic. Two Ministry midwives were supposed to be leading the training, but just that morning one had been called away to Khenifra for a Ministry meeting. The one who had been called away (named Wafa) was at last year's training, so she was going to be taking the lead; this was a disappointing development. The other midwife (Rachida), although inexperienced, spoke Tamazight, which is a big help because it means that the training can move more quickly and fluidly without waiting for translations. The other headache of that day was that the Ministry of Health officials (who were giving introductory remarks)coming from Khenifra were 45 minutes late. They also didn't bring the right number of booklets for the women. Besides these two difficulties, I think the first day went really well. At dinner that night, women who had attended last year's training told me that they liked Rachida a lot because she was a Tamazight speaker. The main lessons for that day were pre natale care and birthing.

Thursday was filled with more complications. Today, Wafa was in Tounfite, but Rachida was called away to Khenifra. After 30 minutes of Wafa leading the session, there was a minor emergency. A woman came into the health clinic: she was in labor! Wafa obviously had to go take care of the situation, so me and the other volunteers quickly talked about what we were going to do to fill the time. We didn't know how long Wafa would be gone. We decided to break the women up into small groups and have each volunteer lead a small review session. The session with my small group went really well; the women were engaged and on top of the material. My group happened to have my host mom in it; she was ashamed at times to be talking about birthing stuff in front of me.

The woman in labor ended up needing more attention than the Tounfite health clinic could provide her, so she was driven to Midelt in an ambulance, with Wafa staying behind. (I was relieved that the woman was having complications and needed to be driven away - how awful is that?) Wafa returned to the training room and got things going again. The rest of that morning went well.

Thursday afternoon, the doctor from my village came and did basic hygiene and first aid lessons with the women. She was visibly impatient with their lack of focus, but on the other hand, she did a good job of calling women out and making sure that they understood the lessons. Later in the afternoon, myself and other volunteers led two health lessons. In the first lesson, we did a skit where a man (me) coming back from the bathroom doesn't wash his hands with soap and he gets sick. When we asked the women why he was sick, they were quick to say that he hadn't washed the microbes off of his hands. This was a great confirmation that they had understood the doctor's lesson from earlier that afternoon. (Throughout the training, at meals, the women consistently washed their hands with soap. This doesn't sound like much, but it's a huge deal. And if a woman didn't wash with soap, the others would yell at her.) The other lesson was about making oral rehydration liquid, which is for people with diarrhea. I had been nervous about having volunteers lead lessons, but I think we did a really good job of it. Our lessons were more interactive than the ministry's lessons and I think the women enjoyed seeing us up there.

Friday morning, the women covered post natale care and family planning. I wasn't present in the actual training room, but female volunteers who were there told me that a condom was passed around (a big deal). Family planning is a critical lesson because lots of women don't understand how to take birth control correctly, resulting in unwanted pregnancies. In my opinion, the best way to reduce maternal and infant mortality is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Friday afternoon was the big finale. I had invited men from every village. The men I invited were those who had helped me recruit women from their village. We broke into 4 different groups, clustered by tribal relationships (Ait Moussa, Ait Fadouli, Ait Sliman, and Ait Tounfite). In the small groups, with the help of a volunteer facilitating the discussion, the women were supposed to quickly summarize the five most important lessons of the workshop (importance of seeking pre natale care, importance of birthing in the health clinic, hygiene, oral rehydration liquide, and family planning). Then, the men and women were supposed to discuss amongst themselves what the biggest health problems were in their village and which lesson best applied to that health problem. They were supposed to discuss the idiosyncrasies of their village (eg Ait Sliman is especially far from a health clinic) and what that meant for their ability to implement the lessons from the training. THEN, the group was supposed to decide what was the best course of action. Working first with the Ait Moussa group, our discussion went really well. One of the men took the lead (I'd asked him to do so beforehand) and did a great job of directing the conversation. We decided that we needed to have one meeting with men (mostly about importance of pre natale visits) and one meeting with women (about a range of lessons). The man would be in charge of inviting people. Our doctor will be invited and I will help her and the women communicate the lessons. After finishing with Ait Moussa, I helped Ait Sliman, which was (unsuprisingly) a little more difficult. However, in the end, they came to the same conclusion: that they needed to do community meetings and education with the help of me and their nurse. I was really nervous about this part of the workshop, but it could not have gone better. I believe it was the most important session and that it will be the catalyst to significant behavior change in my communities...we'll see.

After meeting in the small groups (and tea), we reconvened in a big group. A representative from each group had to explain their group's community plan. Tounfite, Ait Moussa, and Ait Sliman did a pretty good job of explaining to the others what they wanted to do. A woman from Tounfite did an excellent job; the work that will happen in Tounfite as a result of this training should be very good. Finally, was Ait Fadouli. No men from their villages had shown up, so it was mostly up to this 23 year old woman from a particuraly isolated village to lead the charge. She is unmarried and has worked in Rabat and Casablanca; clearly an anomaly in her village. She has a very strong personality.

She stood up and made the best speech that I have ever heard in person. The theme of her speech was that people in these villages need to help each other; the government is corrupt and sitting on its hands. Basically, it's up to us to help ourselves. She told the men that it was shameful for them sit not take care of their women; that the women were the heart and soul of the family and that they deserved proper care. She told the women that it was shameful for them to be witness to the oppression of their sisters, friends, and themselves and not stand up for themselves. She told the women that they had to be more assertive and less afraid. I'm so glad that my Tamazight has gotten to a level where I could understand what she said, because it was amazing. Sitting there in the room at the culmination of the training, I was fighting back tears.

It's hard not to feel really good about the training. I felt like I was taking a risk by inviting the men and asking them to engage with womens' problems, but they did. The whole time I was nervous because I had very little control over whether or not people were going to invest in the training. But I think that's a good sign that I'm doing development work: in the end, people have to help themselves.

But this is really just the beginning. I have 6 villages that are now asking me to come smaller, one day versions of this workshop in their community. That, ultimately, was what I wanted from the training, but it's going to be a lot of work. If those meetings happen, I think it will validate the training. Another way we have of measuring the impact of the training is that we gave each woman a "referral" card, which has a picture of a pregnant lady going to the health clinic. Each card has the name of the woman on it. The idea is that the woman will give the card to her pregnant woman to remind her to go to the health clinic, who will then give the card to the doctor at the clinic. That way we will be able to count a) if people are making referrals and b) which women are making those referrals. I'm a little unsure about whether people will buy into the idea of referral cards, but I think it's worth trying. Another way to measure the effectiveness of the training is to compare number of pre natal visits before and after the training, but that's not a great method of measuring

In conclusion, it was a great week. The women were happy all week long and I think they absorbed some valuable information. I want to thank: the volunteers who helped me run the training (Kristen, Eric, Jed, Falisha, Taryn, and Dan), the volunteers who built my capacity to do this (Mara, Dave, and Kristin), the Ministry of Health staff who helped run the training (Selua, Wafa, and Rachida), the Ministry of Health people in Khenifra who gave me the stamp of approval (mostly Sidi Aissa), my PC programming staff (Mostafa and Rachid), the family who housed and fed the women for the training (Mamaksu and Baha) and most importantly, the women and men who came, participated, and engaged.

I'm in Marrakech, leading sessions for IST (in-service training) for volunteers who have been in the country since March. I have a lot of free time here in between sessions and unlimited computer access (with Internet), so I'm going to be working on my grad school apps.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Peace Corps mandated that all volunteers get flu vaccinations this year (seasonal flu, not H1N1). I got mine in Azilal, which is about 7 or 8 hours from my site. Although it was a long trip, I was glad to visit Azilal for the first time, which is a beautiful small (20,000) city.

On the way back, I got on a transit (owned by a guy from my site) from Boumia to Tounfite - the 2nd to last leg before arriving in my site. It was late, so this probably was the last transit making the trip. Just as the transit was pulling out, a couple of visibly drunk guys got on the transit. One of the sat down next to me.

The was loud and smoking a cigarette (bad form in a transit). He was carrying a clear plastic bag full of alcohol. I was tired from the long day of traveling really I didnt want to talk to anyone, especially a drunk obnoxious someone. But he wanted to talk to me, and loudly. He kept asking if I remembered him, which I did. At first it was just annoying...he wanted to kiss me a lot (sign of respect here) so he kept grabbing my head and kissing my forehead.

Then he started getting abusive. He was yelling at everyone in the transit. He spit in the direction of the driver. But most of his maliciousness was directed at me. He started saying very rude things to me. (I debated about whether or not to include translations...I decided to print everything. Please excuse the rudeness). Amongst other things, he said to me, "I fuck you," "I fuck your asshole," and "I fuck your mother." The transit was full of young men from my site, people that I have known for almost a year and half now. I looked to them for help, support. They said to me; "fist," which means "be quiet" in Tamazight. They didnt want to confront the guy. I couldnt believe it. Then the guy started telling the volunteer that I was traveling with, "Tell Duncan to shut up or I will hit him in the face." I didnt need the translation from my friend to understand.

At this point, I was still taking it pretty well. I was getting angry, but I was limiting my responses to: "youre drunk, be quiet," "enough talking," "im tired," and the like. I was very frustrated with my friends in the back, who would rather endure this guys abuse than stand up to him.

Then the guy opened up the plastic bag full of wine and started drinking it, inevitably spilling part of its contents on me. I turned to my Moroccan friends sitting behind me, told them that he was drinking alcohol, and asked them to do something about the situation. They told me, "just be quiet, what do you care?" Then the guy got right up in my face, said the shohada (the phrase that you say to convert to Islam: There is no God but Allah and Mohamed is his prophet). He demanded over and over that I say it. I wanted to point out the extreme contradiction of asking me to convert as he was stumbling over drunk, but I didnt. After he tired of this, the guy returned to his previous topic of conversation: my asshole and my mother.

I turned to the guy and said, in English, "All I want to do right now is hit you in your face with my fucking fist." Like I said earlier, "fist" in Tamazight means "be queit" or "shut up." And most people know the word "fuck." So he thought I was telling him to "fucking shut up." He wasnt really affected by my explosion; he kept harassing me and others in the transit.

We finally got to Tounfite and everyone got out. After the drunk guy was gone, my Moroccan friends apoligized to me and said the guy was an idiot. I was glad that they were finally acknowledging that the guy was in the wrong, but frankly I felt that their apologies were empty. I wanted to say, "Where were you guys when the drunk was in my face, yelling at me?" Its not like the guy posed any physical danger to us. He was one man amongst 20. Simply stop the transit, get everyone out, and make the guy ride on top. Or make him walk the rest of the way back. At the very least, stand up for yourself and your friend (a guest in your country).

Ive dealt with drunk idiots in the States before. That part bothered me, but not as much as the lack of support that I got from my "friends." I worry about how interactions such as this (and the one a couple weeks ago where a group of men told me I should have raped an American girl who visited my house) are permanently coloring my feelings about Morocco. Yes, there are lots of people that I have only positive interactions with and I care about quite a bit. But this minority (is it a minority? In two interactions, 20 out of 20 men have been complicit in disgusting behavior) is damaging how I feel about my time here.

OK, so despite this negative post, things are good. The time in Azilal was nice, although short. Its a beautiful town. No trash on the street, trees planted every 20 feet on the sidewalk, surrounded by mountains.

The preparations for the maternal and child health training are going well. I am feeling nervous about how the training will go, but a lot of it is out of my control. This project is the ultimate test of delegating responsibility, which is frightening for me. But Im getting better at not worrying things that I have no power over. The women will start arriving Monday. The training will start Wednesday and last until Friday. Several volunteers from the province are coming to help out, which is nice. I have big dreams and hopes for the training and follow up to the training.

I hope all is well. Take care.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wedding Season: Year 2

Last year I wrote a post about weddings in my site. Well its that time of year again, although this years weddings have been quite different.

Last week there were two days (Monday and Tuesday) where, between my community and the one a mile down the road from us, there were 20 weddings. Everyone has their weddings on the same day so that they dont have to feed the whole community (everyone is invited to every wedding). I went to 6 of the weddings, spending most of my time at my cousins wedding (where my camera was broken). Lots of being crammed into a windowless room with 50 other people, sitting on the floor, drinking tea, eating sheep meat, dancing, drumming, and singing. Its really the only time of year where girls and boys get to spend significant amount of time in the same room.

On Thursday, I got up at 6am to catch a transit. I traveled until 7pm, arriving in Rabat. Thursday night I spent with a Swarthmore alum doing a Fulbright in Rabat. We went out to a nice restaurant where they serve good cheese, pork products, and beer. Delicious. The next day I got up and went to the Peace Corps office to work on grad school applications.

The next day, some other volunteers arrived in Rabat and we hung out and got ready for the wedding that night. My program managers daughter was getting married and he generously invited volunteers to the wedding. One word for the wedding: WOW. It was quite similar to an American wedding, sans alcohol. There were real tables with chairs-I cant tell you how much of a difference having chairs makes.

It was so much fun. The food was delicious. From 9pm to 1am we were served coffee and cakes. For dinner there was bastilla (a pastry sort of thing with fish) and roasted chickens. Then after dinner we had more cakes, including a real wedding cake.

As good as the food was, dancing was the highlight of the night. Every hour or so the bride would be carried into the main room on top of a throne, wearing a new dress each time. People would get up from their tables and clap as she was paraded in while the band played music (6 total parades). Once the throne was set down, everyone would start dancing. I danced all night long (until 430am). There was a group of 17 year old girls who were very excited to have an American boy who would dance with them. It felt weird at first, but it was completely appropriate. The girls fathers would come dance with us at times, giving me thumbs ups and showing me how to dance (key to dancing in Rabat: shake your hips and do something silly with your hands).

That was Saturday night. We got back to our hotel around 5am. Sunday morning I caught a 2pm bus to a friends house that is kind of close to my site. I relaxed with him and tried to catch up on my sleep. Back to my site on Monday.

Tuesday and Wednesday were kind of slow. There was another wedding in my site, which I attended (my friends brothers).

Thursday I got the invitations drawn up (in Arabic) for the Maternal and Child Health Workshop, which is happening on the 28th of this month. That afternoon I helped my family harvest corn, which provides a good story:

My host dad is unable to do all the work himself and I am an unreliable worker, so my host dad often pays his nephew (Mimoon) to help him with the work. Basically, we go out to the fields, cut down the corn (stalk and all) with sickles, and Mimoon takes the corn back to the house (a mile away) on a mule. Towards the end of the day, Mimoon was getting frustrated and tired, so he started loading the mule very high with corn so as to reduce the number of trips he had to make. Each time my host Dad told him he had loaded the mule too high. With just a couple loads remaining, Mimoon returned to report that the mule had fallen and that he had left the corn in the road. We loaded the mule again (again my host dad told him it was too much corn). We decided that this would be the last load for the day, so my host dad and I accompanied Mimoon. In order to get through the house, we have to go through a sort of pass, where the path is bad and a fall could be potentially disastrous. This is where the mule had fallen last time, with the corn laying by the side of the road. Well going through the pass, the mule started stumbling, then started walking backwards down the mountain (a 45 degree angle). Loaded high with corn, there was no way that it wouldnt fall. It did a back flip, landing on its back, then another full 360 degree back flip, landing on its back at the bottom of the hill, 30 vertical feet below the pass. I thought for sure it would have broken its neck. It was one of the most hard core things I ever watched. Amazingly, it got up. My host dad broke into some of the meanest curses (directed at Mimoon) Ive ever heard. Meanwhile Mimoon is yelling at my host dad as well for making him work too much. We ended up loading the mule back up with much less corn on its back and returning a couple times to pick up the corn from the previous fall. Everyone was very tired and angry. That night, I went to another wedding.

Friday I woke up and biked to an outer douar, where I had to inform women about the training date. There happened to be a wedding there, which I was obliged to attend before going on with my work. The husbands of the women changed their minds and said that they couldnt go. So we had to recruit two different women, which was greatly complicated by the wedding going on.

Saturday afternoon I walked to another outer douar, to inform women there and attend ANOTHER wedding. Informing the women was easy there, but I was tired and it was difficult to gracefully exit the wedding. This morning (Sunday), I got up at 6am to walk 10km to the main road, where I caught transit to market. And here I am in Tounfite.

Its been a busy couple of weeks and with the workshop fast approaching, the next 2 weeks will be even busier. Im happy to be working, mostly I just hope that the workshop goes well. I think I have everything planned out, but inevitable there will be problems that I cannot foresee.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gender In Morocco

I missed last week's posting because I forgot to bring the notebook in which I had hand written it. Without any further delay, here it is:

I keep writing about this topic of gender because I keep learning more about it. And also there's a lot to say.

For the last couple months, I've been helping a local girl with English. She just graduated from high school and is starting college this fall. She's the only girl from my village that I know of who continued her studies past the 6th grade. She just happened to choose English as her concentration; when her father asked me to help her I was happy to do so. I'm glad to be helping her with her English because I get a lot out of it too: we have honest conversations about gender and religion that are illuminating.

Every week she writes a couple essays for me so that I can correct her English and to give us something to talk about. She often writes something about gender.

For Westerners, the symbol of female oppression in the Muslim world is the headscarf. This girl (let's call her Fatima) wrote about when she started wearing the headscarf (which she calls a veil even though it only covers her hair and neck): "The step of the veil was very difficult for me because I wasn't used to covering...As a non-Muslim, the importance of wearing the veil must seem stupid and exaggerated, but I think it is good for every woman." She told me that the hardest part of wearing the headscarf for her was the physical discomfort of wrapping her head. She told me that parents ought to make their little girls wear headscarves from an early age so as to get them used to the feeling.

Ultimately, she made the decision to wear the headscarf because "I know it was a command from God." Dogmatic is a good way to describe her belief (and the belief of many other Moroccans that I have interacted with). Whenever I question a practice of Islam that I find sexist, she says that it is justified because God commanded it.

But that is not to say that she is uncritical of Muslims' behavior. We talk about some of the oppressive practices happening in the community (and in the rest of the Muslim world) and she says that many people distort the word of God - I'm only happy to point out the ways that people do that with Christianity as well. Returning to gender, Fatima has told me that it is silly to pretend that man and woman are equals. She wrote that "menses and pregnancy make women weak." She sees men and women as performing important, but different roles in the community and in the family.

For Fatima, religious rules about relationships between unmarried girls and boys ultimately come down to protecting the "dignity" of girls. She's told me that if a girl's virginity is not intact on her wedding night, there will be lots of trouble for her and her family. I asked her why a man's virginity is not guarded in the same way and she said that that was confusing to her. That it was unfair.

Given that she goes to school in a bigger city, Fatima is exposed to Moroccan girls/women who dress similarly to Western women. She told me that she feels pity for these girls; that they have no self-respect.

This is a crucial point: Fatima believes that sexual and behavioral freedom in the West is a degredation of the women. While Westerners see Muslim women wearing modest clothes and segregating them from men as oppressive, she sees it as the only way to protect their dignity and respect. She thinks that Western men treat their women poorly in a similar way that I think that Moroccans treat their women poorly. Both groups see the the other as oppressors of their women. For Westerners, freedom and choice are important. For Muslims (at least Fatima), modesty is important.

Given the way that some Moroccan men treat women who dress "immodestly," I kind of see her point. Fatima writes, "I don't like the idea of a boy who uses a girl as a tool for gratification of his desires." I have heard many horror stories from female volunteers about harrassment. From my own experience, men in my village talk very disrespectfully about girls. One story stands out (I am not sure if it's good to pass this story on; it's quite upsetting).

About a week ago, a Swarthmore who's doing a Fulbright in Morocco came to stay at my house on her way to the South. After she left, I was in a young-man hangout place and the men brought up the girl. First, they couldn't believe that I didn't sleep with her, despite my insistence. Worse was what they told me I ought to have done. They said I ought to have gotten her drunk so that "she couldn't say 'no'." If that didn't work, I should have gotten a rope and tied her up. There was a group of about 10 young men agreeing with this and chiming in with their own rape strategies. Obviously very upsetting. I said that was wrong, no one agreed with me. (This is one reason that I'm having trouble making real friends here: I don't respect most of the men.)

At least in my community, it is culturally acceptable to think of women as sex objects. Given that, Fatima is right: the only way for a girl to be respectable and to keep men from saying awful things about her is to cover up (although covering up doesn't always work either). Both men and women here have told me that men cannot control their sexual impulses. It is up to women not to stir up these impulses. Talking about women in big cities who dress like Westerners, Fatima told me that any harrassment that they get is their own fault. They invite it.

What to make of all this? Oppression exists in the Muslim world, but after reading the Qu'ran, it is clear that a lot of that oppression is of cultural and not religious origin. However, there are some passages in the Qu'ran that clearly put men in a superior position to women. Fatima sees these passages as a reflection of natural differences between men and women. Ultimately these oppressive measures are necessary to protect the dignity of women. I don't see it that way, but living amongst men in my village allows me to see where she is coming from.

I've been accused by some readers of being too factual and not editorializing enough; so here's what I think: Oppression of women here is awful, but the situation is a lot more complicated that liberating women by allowing them to wear whatever clothes they want. Furthermore, there is a partnership between man and wife in the household and a great deal of respect and love in that partnership.

In some European countries, the issue of the headscarf is a politcally sensitive one. France restricts wearing it in certain public spaces. Certain schools in Belgium have recently banned wearing the headscarf. To me, this is terribly misplaced liberalism. Preventing someone from wearing an article of clothing that they see as central to protecting their dignity?? Crazy. The headscarf is the symbol of female oppression in the West, but women here see it as a way to protect themselves. Treat the disease (male chauvanism), not the symptom. French President Sarkozy called the burka a tool of oppression and sees himself as a savior for liberating women from its shackles. While the burka (a burka is different from the headscarf: it covers the entire face, except for the eyes) is oppressive, forcing a woman to remove it does not address the root of the problem. Worse, it embarrasses Muslim women and makes Western government seem disrespectful in the eyes of the Muslim world, widening the gap between the two civilizations.

Imagine a nation where people do not where shirts. Natives, men and women, walk around topless (some Pacific Island community?). Then suppose that a law was enacted requiring women (targeted at American immigrants to the community) to take of their shirts when they entered public schools. Absolutely ridiculous. I see the amount of clothing that a community finds acceptable as culturally relative and ultimately arbitrary. Why force one culture to adapt your culture's clothing norms?


I'm in Rabat now. I've been invited to the wedding of my boss's daughter, which I'm very excited for. I've spent most of the last week in my community at weddings, staying up late, drinking lots of eating, eating lots of sheep meat, and dancing.

When I first came to my village, I thought that I could never be friends with females. My host mom has always been one of my best friends here. Then I started helping this girl with English and we have become good friends. At the weddings, I met a girl who is from our community, but lives and work in Rabat. She's much more open and less shy. We rode the bus to Rabat together and are friends. Also I've developed friendships with the nurses and teachers in my community. I'm very grateful for these friendships.

My camera recently broke. Almost as upsetting as this fact is the way in which it happened. One of the weddings that I went to was my host cousin's. He asked me if he borrow the camera and take pictures of the wedding. Wanting pictures of a wedding and feeling uncomfortable to be snapping photos myself, I agreed. Well someone bumped into the guy and he dropped the camera. He felt really bad, but didn't offer to pay for its repair and probably doens't have the money to anyways. This is upsetting because lots of Peace Corps volunteers don't lend their things to Moroccans for precisely this reason and warn others against doing the same. I've always been pretty generous with my stuff because I wanted to treat people in my community as I would treat Americans. Now I face the consequences. I'm going to try and get the camera fixed while I am in Rabat.

All is well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


At the conclusion of Ramadan is the L3id ftir, or the small holiday. It is a celebration of the end of the month of fasting, observed by Muslims. The day was a particuraly action packed for me, so here is an account of the day:

5:45 am, wake up, go to my host familys.
6:00 Wait around at my host familys while people get ready for the days festivities.
6:30 My host dad, some neighbors, and I walked around to different peoples houses. At every house, tea, cookies, and a milky sort of pasta is served. Its a chance to visit people and eat food after a month of fasting. People were in a good mood and said nice things to me about fasting.
8:00 I went to three more houses after I finished walking around with the group. These were people who had invited me to come over the day before. I went to the fkeihs (religious leader) house, Unasrs house, and my good friend Driss ou abess house. More tea, cookies, and milky pasta.
9:00 I went to the center of town and talked with the men. It was a sunny day and maybe thirty men were standing around, chatting. The call to prayer went off and a lot of the men went to make their L3id prayers (outside).
10:00 I went inside and started doing some fall cleaning. My house was badly in need of it.
Noon I went back to my host familys house for lunch. During Ramadan, I had only been eating break fast food with them, so this was the first time in a month that I had eaten a tajine (traditional moroccan dish). I cant say that I missed it. But It was good to sit with my host family and chat with them while they were in such a good mood.
1:30 Went back to my house to finish cleaning, read a little bit, and take a nap.
4:00 After waking, I left my house and went back to the center of town to hang out with people. I played this game that people here call fili, which is a board game. Its a complicated game and I still lose most of the time, but Im hoping to master the game before I leave. While we were playing, an argument erupted. The commune had set a bunch of sugar and tea (typical government give away) outside for people to take. I guess a bunch of wealthier people in town helped themselves. Buaza got really angry and started yelling at those people. He said that they should leave the giveaways for the poor people. It was starting to get ugly, so I went to Saids house.
5:00 Saids daughter is the most educated female in my site. She is nineteen and starting her first year at university. She majors in English, which she speaks pretty well. Said asked me to come to their house on a regular basis to help her. Im normally oppossed to English tutoring, but this girl is very motivated and I like helping her. We have very honest conversations about gender in Morocco and sort of honest conversations about religion. I learn a lot from her. Pretty soon I will devote an entire post to our conversations. While there, I also spoke with Said about people in Agoudim. He told me that there are people who have hundreds of thousands of dirhms (maybe 30000 dollars) in Agoudim. There are some poor people, but there are also people who are rich from herding huge flocks of sheep. I always have a difficult time guaging the wealth of my village and this was an interesting conversation. Saids wife, Itto, and I also had an intersting conversation about womens attitudes towards birthing in my village. I will probably try to get her to come to the training that Im holding.
7:15 I left Saids house and ran into my friend, Driss ou abess. He started telling me about his difficulties sleeping, which result from stress. It was the first time that a Moroccan had opened up to me about their personal problems. I felt like it was a big step in terms of the level of trust that he had in me. He has been trying to start a little hotel place for tourists, and he was just venting his worries about getting that going and balancing that work with all of his farming responsibilities. It was heart to heart.
8:00 Driss and I started walking to a syba (big dinner to celebrate a birth; most men in village are invited). On the way we ran into a group of young men, walking the opposite direction. They told us that a fight had broken out. Apparently Driss ou Kajoj had approached Moolay ou Atman and struck him. Some other people got in the middle and were hurt as well. All people were saying was "the guy is crazy. the fight was about nothing."
8:35 Driss and I arrived at the syba. Lots of older men were there and everyone was talking about the fight. People were saying some pretty negative stuff about how bad people were in general. There was a metaphor about how life is as a dark as night. The fkeih starts the prayers (typical at a syba). We have some food. People were really nice to me, telling me how good I was at Tamazight and how much a part of the community I was. Assou told me that if there was a foreigner Tamazight test, then I would be the best. After food, the fkeih started talking about the correct way for people to do their prayers, and everyone was getting really into it, asking him questions and arguing with each other.
11:00 Back home, read, write, sleep.

So it was a full day. I felt as though I reached a new level of connectedness with my community and that I learned a lot about the comings and goings. Very rewarding. Other than that day, Im busy preparing for the maternal and child health training thats happening in a week. Im going to the provincial capital tomorrow to get final approval. Dont expect a post this weekend.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Climate Change Articles

Foreign Affairs recently published 3 articles on climate change: "Copenhangen's Inconvenient Truth," (Levi) "The Other Climate Changers," (Wallack and Ramanathan) and "The Low-Carbon Diet" (Kurtzman. The fact that the 3 articles were prominently featured in a journal such as Foreign Affairs is a good sign that the issue is being taken seriously by the right people. Unfortunately, the articles themselves expose just how much work there is to do. And how dire the situation is.

Levi writes about plans for Copenhagen negotiations in December with the primary purpose of lowering expectations for the summit. "The odds of signing a comprehensive treaty in December are vanishingly small."

Many difficulties will prevent a worthwhile agreement from being signed. Greatest amongst those difficulties is the gap between the developing and developed world. Economic growth is seen as an important way that nation-states project power; any talk of disrupting that growth will be met with opposition. The developing world (naturally) wants to enjoy the same prosperity as the West - it believes it ought to be able to pollute as much as the West did in order to achieve its prosperity. Unfortunately, without significant reduction in emissions from the developing world (primarily China, India, and Brazil) any agreement amongst the West is worthless. Complicating matters is the fact that developing nations "lack the capacity to robustly monitor their entire economies' emissions." There is no point in setting emissions targets at this point, because they cannot be measured or verified. The final difficulty is that it is doubtful that the West has the political will to lead by example on this issue, especially with the current "crisis."

While a comprehensive global agreement sounds nice, it is unrealistic. Instead, "An approach to dealing with climate change based on hundreds, if not thousands, of individual policies and measures may be messy, but the complexity of the problem requires it." This statement is right on, but its consequences are daunting. Climate change demands a bottom-up approach. Thousands of solutions, both governmental and non-governmental will be needed to change the behavior of billions of individuals. There is no magic treaty to sign.

Thus, expectations for Copenhagen are low. I agree with Levi when he says that the best thing that could come out of Copenhagen "is an agreement on measurement, reporting, and verification" for developing countries. That way, future negotiations could ask for verifications of emission cuts. Other than that, "it may take many years before [Copenhagen] results in a meaningful, legally binding agreement."

Wallack and Ramanathan address emissions of black carbon. The result of incomplete combustion, black carbon significantly contributes to climate change. Unlike carbon dioxide, black carbon leaves the atmosphere quickly: "only days to weeks." Thus, if black carbon was eliminated, there would be an immediate impact on the climate. (It will take decades - centuries for carbon dioxide to be reabsorbed).

The problem is that "65% of black carbon emissions are associated with the burning of biomass." This is exactly the issue that im trying to address (anti-deforestation). IT IS NOT EASY.

Wallack and Ramanathan say that "households tend to shift away from [biomass fuels] as soon as other options become available...the challenge is to make other options available." Gas ovens exist in my town, but people cook and bake with wood because it is free. Getting the developing world to make significant change will take a lot more than investing in technology. Once again, bottom-up tactics will be needed to find appropriate, cost-effective solutions for thousands of different communities.

Every article that mentions black carbon calls it "the low hanging fruit." Months ago I responded to a New York Times article that used this same term to talk about black carbon. The analogy implies that these changes will be easy. They won't. To make the analogy correct, the fruit may be hanging low, but there are thousands upon thousands of unique fields that need to be "harvested." An army of workers will be needed to pick those fields.

Finally, Kurtzman's article is the most hopeful. Kurtzman believes that market forces, if correctly shaped by the government, will change emission habits. And he believes that cap-and-trade is the most effective way of setting-up those market forces.

Cap-and-trade is a very elegant solution, which naturally makes me skeptical. Emissions are capped. Polluters that exceed their cap are heavily fined. Corporations that are under their cap can sell their polluting permits to other corporations. Thus, polluters are punished. Clean companies are rewarded. Money flows to companies and technologies that are successfully reducing emissions.

In the US, 85% of cap-and-trade permits are given away. This is essentially giving away money. If, hypothetically, a company shuts down its factories after receiving permits, it can sell those permits for a profit. How can government allocate all these permits? Given the difficulties that Democrats will have in getting the legislation through, you think that they might have to give away some political favors? For example, might Appalachian Democrats in the pocket of Big Coal sell their votes in exchange for permits for their constituents?

Another problem is offsets. If, for example, a polluter gives money to Brazil for reforestation, they can can pollute more without paying a fine. They get credit for reducing emissions in another part of the world while polluting as much as they always did. Most emission proposals want to see the developing world reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. If they can just buy offsets in other countries, emissions won't come down. Furthermore, how will the US government verify that emissions are reduced in the Amazon (to continue the example)? They have a hard enough time keeping track of emissions in America.

But the real problem is that everyone thinks cap-and-trade will be easy. Sure, big industry will agree to cap-and-trade when the goals for reducing emissions are negligible and permits are given away. In order to meet the goal of 80% reduction by 2050 (80% of 2005 levels, not 80% of 1990 levels, like needed) stringent caps will have to be imposed. Why delay those cuts? Because it is currently politically impossible to make real cuts. Why will it be any different 5 years from now? At some point, this legislation will demand sacrifices from people and industry to be effective. I can't see our Congress passing any sort of deal given the mess they are currently making of health care.

So, all this adds up to a grim situation. Since the publishing of these articles, things have only gotten worse. US Copenhagen negotiators were hooping that cap-and-trade legislation would have passed through Congress before December so they could point to concrete steps taken by the US. But Obama and Congress are currently grappling with health care - it seems unlikely that they will find time fore cap-and-trade.

Even if the fanciful cap-and-trade targets were met and the low-hanging fruit was plucked, the climate would still get warmer. It takes hundreds of years for CO2 to be removed from atmosphere. We have started positive feedback loops that may spiral out of control. Thus, adaptation must be considered. Disease patterns will change. Agriculture will be affected, particuraly in the poorest parts of the world. Rising sea levels will displace millions of people. In addition to humanitarian concerns, climate change will destabilize the global political situation. Action plans need to be made now.

My computer is out of commission. Hopefully I will be able to fix it. But until I do so, the quality of my posts might drop. I wrote this one by hand in my house and hurridly typed it at the cyber.

Ramadan is over Sunday or Monday. I had break fast at my doctor's house the other day and it might have been the best food ive eaten in Morocco. There was: pizza, custard pie with apples, apple and pear juice, homemade Moroccan pastry, delicious soup, dates, and tea. Wow. Makes me wish I spent more time with city Moroccans, eating their food.

I went to the health clinic the other day and the door to the exam room was shut. I waited for like 15 minutes before people came out. A woman had half of her head bandaged and it was obvious there had been a lot of blood. She had gotten into a fight with another woman and been struck with the tool that they use to harvest grass and wheat. It looks a lot like a scythe.

Yesterday I was talking with some young men outside. They started telling me that the European economy was better than the American economy - their proof was that the Euro is stronger than the dollar. I didn't know how to say in Tam, "The numerical value of a currency is arbitrary. It says nothing about the purchasing power of that currency or the state of the economy." But I explained that if a Moroccan went to America, he/she would get much more for his/her dirham than someone exchanging yen. But the Japanese economy is much bigger than the Moroccan one. It was the most complicated concept that I have ever explained in Tamazight. Success.

All is well. The maternal and child health workshop that I've been planning for months now has a date: October 7th, 8th, and 9th. I won't be writing a grant to ask for money on the PC website, but if you have interest in donating, your money will be well spent and appreciated.